Children are smart. They are born inquisitive and are a sponge for information. It is us that hinders their curiosity and indoctrinates them to believe in a dogma of information that may or may not be true.
When it comes to behaviour, however, this natural born intelligence can sometimes be a negative, when not parented consistently, or without a long term outcome in mind.
Let’s say a child sees a candy bar they want in the check out aisle. They fuss a bit for it and you say no. They fuss a bit more, and again you say no. Children WILL test your boundaries the first few times they are in a checkout aisle. And, they WILL be taking mental notes about the response they get. The outcome could be as follows:
- You maintain a strong and firm no, but without hostility and without threat. The child learns that he can not have a candy bar. The next checkout aisle encounter may only require one no. The expectation will already be established that there was a firm no, and that you followed through on your no. No tantrum or poor behaviour will likely be experienced.
- You say no with signs of weakness. Children can read into your body language. They KNOW if you mean no, or if there is part of you that wants to make them “happy” and appease them by saying yes. If a weak no is given, more begging will occur. If you give in to the child, your quest for good behaviour in the checkout aisle is forever over (or until you regain control).
The child has won.
They know that you did not really want them to have the candy bar at the beginning of the negotiations. They know that their constant asking or whining got them what they wanted. They now know they have power over decisions regarding candy, regardless of health implications.
Behaviourly, the child in the second scenario becomes a child that whines and begs for the things that they want. They become the adult that thinks the world owes them and it is external forces that are to blame for any failure.
We have all seen this time and time again. Should we blame the child? Should we blame them for being smart? Should we blame them for knowing how to control a situation in order to get what they want?
I hate to say it, but it is NOT the child’s fault that their behaviour becomes poor. Notice I didn't say that their behaviour IS poor. ALL children are born with the ability to behave well.
Deep down, we all know this is true.
Their behaviour is OUR fault.
Saying no, and meaning it, is not fun. I get it. It feels good to buy that candy bar and see a smiling face for a minute and know that you provided that very temporary “happiness”, right?
Well, saying no, and meaning it, and being consistent with the no each time through the checkout aisle provides more happiness in the long run than that minute of chocolatey fun. This is because the children learn a valuable lesson about structure and society. They learn that they can not get everything they want without contribution or work. They learn to truly enjoy the times when you go to the store SPECIFICALLY for a candy bar (which hopefully is not often), and appreciate it exponentially more.
Having expectations about how to behave and knowing that there are consequences if these behaviour expectations are not met allow for proper brain chemistry and brain development.
There is actual neuroscience behind having expectations and knowing what is and what is not appropriate behaviour.
Most parents, in this busy world, give in from time to time. But, by doing the things that other parents do not want to do (by saying a firm no) will set YOUR child’s brain up for success. They will have a distinct advantage!
The reason many children are misbehaved is because it is more work for parents to say no than it is to say yes! The parents that say no and mean it don’t do it because they like to do it. They do it because it is the right thing to do and they have the future in mind.
Don’t give in to every whim of your child.
One bend in consistency, and wham, you can not easily undo it. It is much harder to undo it, than to start with the expectation in the first place. In the book Secrets of The Baby Whisperer, author Tracy Hogg states repeatedly to always start something with your baby only if that is what you truly wish to do LONG term. Babies learn quite quickly. If you give a baby a pacifier, know that it is a long term decision, not just a “please don’t cry now” decision. If you hand rock a baby in the car seat to sleep, know that it is a long term decision! It is very difficult to undo!
For every action, think “hmmm, do I want to do this or have this occur repeatedly for a long period of time?” If the answer is no, do it the hard way now, to make life easier and better for EVERYONE long term.
I’ve always loved that advice, and now I give it to others. Seems so simple, but profound.
Oddly enough, the children of the parents that say no to frivolous things believe their parents love them just as much or more than the children of the parents that give in to demands.
You are not being “mean”. You are being loving. The time you take saying no and being consistent when children are young will make for a breezy teenage parenting experience. Dr. William and Martha Sears in their book The Discipline Book, they state that you either put your time in when the children are young, or you are forced to put time in when they are teens. This brain chemistry is very important during infancy, childhood, the teenage years, and beyond. Why not make them the best they can be?
With your early efforts towards structure and behavioural expectations, your child and eventual teen, can develop optimal brain chemistry, making him or her happy, emotionally stable, confident, and…